OLD TESTAMENT BRUTALITY EXPLAINED
I came across a circular letter in 2019 which provides an excellent and brief response to the question many of us have asked about God's dealings with mankind in the Old Testament. I reproduce it here and thank the person who wrote it in the first place.
Back in 2018 I turned to a new page in my calendar to read the words, ‘We have been created to love and to be loved’. That aligns with the New Testament teachings we are familiar with, for God is love. How do we explain then the brutality and killings we read about in the Old Testament? God commanded Joshua to kill every man, woman and child in the fortified cities they came across in the Promised Land. That is enough to put most people off! Even Christians deplore what they read and thank God for the New Testament, through Jesus Christ, that teaches us to love our neighbour. Yet the apostle Paul said that all these things happened to Israel as a lesson for us today. How can that be? We think of God the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Has He changed His mind? Did He suddenly become loving when He gave us the New Testament 2000 years ago? Is the God of the Old Testament the same as the God of the New Testament?
With thanks to the editors of the Sceptics web site ‘WikiRational’, they kindly published an article I submitted to them though with the small print I used for my submission I missed a number of typographical errors I had made. In the article, as you can investigate for yourself, I pointed to the deplorable bloodshed and killings in the Old Testament which many sceptics of the Bible struggle with. I have often agonized myself why there is so much suffering in the world even today. I quote the opening statement from my article,
‘Greetings to all of you readers and publishers of RationalWiki. As a former academic, and having dealt with some of you at university on an almost daily basis, I know that most of you are sincere people who won't stand for rubbish because you want to get to the truth. My sceptic colleagues at university struggled mostly with a question that really bothered them personally. If God is a God of love then why is there so much suffering in the world and why were there all the killings in the past and present for that matter? There is a biblical answer of course because, as I found out, God really is a God of love. But you have to want to believe, I guess, and look into the Bible why things are the way they are. However, since many of you seem to struggle with that question, it indicates to me that you have a soft heart towards people and animals that suffer, even as I do. So I hope that you will also have a soft heart for what I am about to share below’.
The answer is to be found in the article on this website ‘Why Mary had to be a virgin’. Allow me to explain fully. A key to aid our understanding is found in the description of one of the battles before the children of Israel crossed over the Jordan to destroy Jericho and all its inhabitants except for a harlot and her friends and family: in fact, anybody who believed her testimony and came into her house before Joshua was to take the city.
Earlier on, God commanded Moses to send forth the army of God and take revenge on the Medianites who had brought great harm to Israel because of the wicked counsel of Balaam, the misguided prophet of God. Israel took 12,000 men and, with God’s help, overcame a vastly superior enemy force. They killed every man in the fortified villages and brought back much spoil including a huge assembly of women and children (Numbers 31:1-18). When the army returned Moses got angry that they had spared the women and children. So God did the next best thing – instead of slaughtering them all, Moses said that only the male children and any woman who had slept with a man should be killed outright. So they obeyed Moses sparing 32,000 females who had not known man (Numbers 31:35). You can imagine how many Medianites had been killed in total (Interestingly, Pharaoh, in Egypt, had adopted the same principle when he ordered the midwives to kill any male born to the Hebrew slaves; only baby Moses had been spared.)
God’s desire was that no Canaanite male should survive whether born or as yet unborn. There is something special about males that I explained in the article on Mary, mother of Jesus. Because of the nature of a woman’s anatomy a woman cannot biologically transmit the sin of Adam to her offspring. Her blood is separate from that of the embryo in her womb, but a man’s sperm can. That is why Jesus had to be born of a virgin so that He was spared from inheriting Adam’s sin ('Eve gets the grief, but really Adam is the one accountable for sin entering the earth. I have often wondered what would have happened if he refused Satan and went to God the Father to petition for his wife', John Leslie, New Mexico).
You may recall that, when Abraham was called out from Ur of the Chaldees, he walked up and down the breadth of Canaan and was promised that his descendants would inherit all of Canaan. To Abraham’s horror though, God told him that his descendants would have to serve for 400 years in another land, which turned out to involve their harsh slavery in Egypt under a Pharaoh who did not know Joseph. Why the hundreds of years of delay?
There was a long delay before God could fulfil His promise because God could not remove the Canaanites from the Promised Land while there was still some righteousness amongst them. Remember, for example, the Canaanite kings and a king's son who had violated Dinah the daughter of Jacob that acted righteously towards Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? God had to wait until all righteousness died out. Eventually over time, the Canaanites became more and more callous, murdering their own children in human sacrifices and worshiped other Gods, and became totally immoral, unloving and aggressive.
In the years that God waited the Canaanite nations had become totally corrupt and nonredeemable. It is interesting to note that, in such situations, womenfolk become as hardened towards righteousness as their men. We note that today from the daily news that females are becoming as aggressive as the callous men they hang around with. Girls have told me that other girls at school can be worse bullies than the boys. Therefore, God had no qualms in ordering Joshua and Moses to kill all the inhabitants; both male and female, old and young. They had their opportunities and squandered them. God was able to do the same at the time of Noah when he drowned every man, woman and child except those on the Ark.
Unfortunately, so shall it also be at the end of the world according to the New Testament. All manner of evil shall dominate the thoughts of men and women. Anybody who chooses to remain outside of Christ will remain non-redeemable and unacceptable to God. Therefore, at the Second Coming of Christ, God will have no qualms in causing the death of those who have not repented. Their destiny is the second death and hell for all of eternity. That will be horrible.
‘Know this also that, in the last days, grievous times will be at hand. For men will be self-lovers, money-lovers, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, unyielding, false accusers, without self-control, savage, despisers of good, traitors, reckless, puffed up, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness, but denying the power of it; even turn away from these’
Having said that in principle there is no difference between the Old and New Testaments; we are, nevertheless, the beneficiaries of a much better deal than those who lived under the Law of Moses. But wait for it; Jesus is no ‘pushover or sugar daddy’! Herein lies the danger for many who claim to be Christians. There is a catch 22. According to a definition in Wikipedia, catch-22 is a paradoxical situation from which an individual cannot escape because of contradictory rules. The New Testament has a catch-22. Have you ever noticed that every promise in the New Testament is conditional – if we obey?
The early patriarchs, before Moses, lived under grace as we do in our day. We remember that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, received so much grace that he never saw death and was translated by God directly into heaven, 'By faith Enoch was translated so as not to see death and he was not found because God had translated him; for, before his translation, he had this testimony that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. By faith Noah having been warned by God of things not yet seen, moved with fear and prepared an ark to the saving of his house by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness, which is according to faith' (Hebrews 11:5-7). The same chapter cites other great Old Testament heroes of faith. Despite that the era was covered by faith, since the law had not yet been introduced, God had no qualms destroying the entire world by water except the 8 people who were saved on the Ark and the terrestrial animals with them.
The Law was brought in as our school master to teach us that the wages of sin is death. 'But we know that the law is good if a man uses it lawfully knowing this that the law is not made for a righteous one, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers' (1Timothy 1:8-9, and one should read on).
Jesus reversed the harsh demands of the Law. 'And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us and has taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross' (Colossians 2:13-14).
'And the Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us. And we beheld His glory the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and of truth. John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, this was He of whom I spoke: He who comes after me has been before me for He was preceding me. And out of His fullness we all have received, and grace for grace. For the Law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the Only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him' (John 1:14-18). (By the way, this is exactly what I said in my two articles on Abraham that no one has ever seen God directly, except the Son of God who was veiled in flesh so that mankind could behold Him).
'Grace will be with you, mercy and peace from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. I rejoiced greatly that I found your children walking in truth as we have received command from the Father' (2John 1:3-4).
To repeat, a catch-22 is a paradoxical situation from which an individual cannot escape because of contradictory rules. Though Jesus is full of grace He is also full of truth. Jesus did not deny to the fearful and lazy servant that He can be a hard taskmaster (Matthew 25:24-28) nor did He forgive those who wasted and used the gifts of God lawlessly (Matthew 7:23). And these things were addressed to those who were already serving Christ!! So let us be on guard and treasure our great salvation through Jesus Christ.
Pastor Doug Batchelor addressed the popular saying 'Once saved, always saved' demonstrating with a number of scriptures that it is possible to fall away, as indeed did the former great evangelist and friend of Billy Graham, Charles Templeton, when Charles turned his back on God. He even attempted to turn Billy from the faith. Charles lost his faith because he could not understand on a tour of a German concentration camp after the war why a loving God allowed the Jews to go through the holocaust without intervening. I once knew a zealous circuit preacher who would travel the English countryside preaching repentance but then lost his faith when he came across the scripture that Jesus cursed an 'innocent fig tree' which subsequently withered and died. He became a devoted atheistic naturalist and professor of biology. He was greatly distressed that the God he had served was not a god of love.
THERE IS A FURTHER CATCH-22 SITUATION REGARDING THE GOSPEL
Many, many Christians are personally struggling in a state of unforgiveness that is destroying their lives. Christians seem to find it easier to forgive the heathen than their own brothers and sisters from whom they would have expected profuse apologies, compensation and godly behaviour. Many are paralysed because they may have been treated harshly or unfairly for years which seemingly wrecked their lives. But, as Paul said, 'we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God'. How can we be sure of our own innocence? Even if we are innocent we should take it on the chin as God would have it. What did He say? If someone steals your cloak give him the other one also. We can learn a lot from the story of Joseph whose early years were ruined by his brothers (Genesis Chapters 37-36, nine chapters about bitterness and forgiveness in the Old Testament). In all this we need to ask God for wisdom according to each individual situation and let the Holy Spirit lead us.
This is why there are so many splinter groups in Christianity. Everybody is convinced that they have the better cause in a dispute; pastor against pastor, brother against brother, and sisters against brothers, etc. Christians have no doubt treated their own Christian brothers and sisters unfairly on many occasions. The hurts and offences run deep. While this persists there can be no unity. People may calm down and agree to disagree, but that is far from God's perfect will. In His mercy He lets us run with it, but, as the Scripture says, our sin will always find us out even shouted from the housetops. Why do we allow ourselves to get ensnared like that? It's a sign of living in survival mode, not by grace.
Jesus charged His followers that unless we forgive neither will the Father forgive us. His disciple Peter tried to squirm out of having to forgive always by asking how often he should forgive. Jesus answered prophetically, which meant till the end of the church age ('Jesus said to him, I do not say to you until seven times, but, until seventy times seven', Matthew 18:22). Jesus was symbolically saying until He returns according to the 7 x 70 prophecy of Daniel.
This is abundantly clear. If we retain bitterness towards anyone we will stand in sin before the Father on judgement day. We can wrestle the scriptures this way and that way to justify our lack of willingness to forgive. For example, in the anger that the apostle felt in this particular instance, 'Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works, of whom beware also for he has greatly withstood our words' (2Timothy 4:14-15, KJV). But let us hear this in context. Alexander had been opposing the mission set by God and Paul was in God's will. Can we always claim that in our situations? If bitterness rules our hearts let us surrender to God knowing that then we are on safe ground whatever the real case may be.
Therefore, it is clear that the New Testament is no different to the Old Testament in that respect. God is giving the world a 2000-year window of opportunity to repent and turn to Christ through the church no matter how corrupt some churches can be. They are the door of salvation to those who have a heart to turn to the Lord. In every church God knows those who are His and those who are tares just taking up space whether they be in leadership or in the congregation.
Hell and the final judgement will be just as brutal to the unrepentant as Noah’s flood was to the unrepentant. I remember the testimony of a man of God from Queensland. He was taken aback in a vision he had received from God. In recounting the vision he stressed the frozen faces and look of horror on those who were running to God joyfully expecting their full redemption only to be scathingly addressed and locked out by God.
We remember that God shows no partiality whether people are adults or young of accountable age. Defining an accountable age is a grey area and will no doubt depend upon individual situations as God Himself will determine. Young people can turn to the Lord even if their parents and siblings have rejected Christ. Can we appreciate God’s love through Jesus Christ? He has provided a way for us to escape the brutality that is to come upon all who hate God and worship other things in their life whatever the other things may be that cause them to turn from God’s ways and commandments.
Therefore God is love, but His love is not unconditional.